Imitation of Christ. The name alone is designed to incite curiosity and to provoke a reaction, amused or otherwise. The collection behind the name is more likely to incite sighs of yearning among a particular type of young woman (e.g., those enamored of vintage-inspired garden party dresses, slinky tap pants and beautifully tailored borrowed-from-the-boys suiting). And designer Tara Subkoff would have it no other way.
A study in contradictions, Subkoff is an actress/fashion designer who specializes in turning expectations on their head, whether she's appearing in films like As Good As it Gets, The Notorious Bettie Page and Tanner Hall, or staging an incredibly realistic-seeming Fashion Week wedding (spring 2012), a mock Sotheby's auction (fall 2002), or a funeral-cum-show, complete with casket and IOC-clad mourners (spring 2001).
Since launching Imitation of Christ in 2000 (the label takes its name from a 15th century spiritual text by Thomas a Kempis and the Psychedlic Furs song), the self-taught Westport, Connecticut native has done a capsule shoe collection with Easy Spirit, enlisted pals Chloe Sevigny and Scarlett Johansson to walk her runway, showed during Paris couture and directed several IOC fashion films—all while continuing to act on the side. She was also diagnosed with a benign brain tumor in 2009 and took several years off to attend to her health before relaunching IOC in September 2011 with the aforementioned wedding show, which featured Lydia Hearst-Shaw as the blushing bride. The collection was immediately snapped up by Barneys, Opening Ceremony, Otte, Confederacy, Shopbop and Net-a-Porter, among others.
For fall 2012, Subkoff partnered with bespoke tailors Doyle Mueser on impeccably cut blazers, trousers and evening wear, giving traditional menswear fabrics and silhouettes a feminized, figure-flattering spin. The resulting collection, which recalled Bianca Jagger in her white suited Seventies heyday, was presented via a theatrical magic show during New York Fashion Week last month.
"I remember telling my mother that I wanted to be an artist, an actress, a fashion designer and a director/producer at age eight," said Subkoff, now 39, who has two feature film projects in the works and recently relocated to New York after years of living in Los Angeles. "She told me I had to pick one. Probably it was good advice but I didn't follow it."
Judging from her success in all of the above, she didn't have to. The Fashion Informer's Lauren David Peden spoke to the modern day Renaissance woman just before the holidays, when she weighed in on movies, makeup and having her Christmas wishes (the early arrival of spring) come true.
What did you have for breakfast this morning?
Raw food spiralina cereal and soy milk. Very healthy! And some matcha green tea.
What's your favorite method of communication?
Seeing people and talking in person. Old fashioned but truly the best.
Please tell me about your favorite pair of shoes.
The boots I made for Easy Spirit years ago. So comfortable it's hard to let 'em go. They were the best design I ever did.
What's the last great movie you saw?
I just saw Mike Mills' Beginners on the plane yesterday. It's so sweet and sad and real and charming. I really loved it. I also liked Steve McQueen's last film, Shame. It's very dark but an incredible portrait about addiction and really moving. Michael Fassbender is great in it.
What song sums up your life right now, at this moment?
The Chipmunks' Christmas album? Sped up? I don't know why I said that. I think there's so much Christmas music being pumped in everywhere I can't really think of anything besides that.
What one thing would improve your life?
Springtime coming super early this year, like in the next three weeks! Right after the holidays. It would hit, tons of flowers and sunshine and, best of all, no more winter!
What's the one beauty/grooming product you can't live without?
Skyn Iceland's The Antidote cream! And also Hourglass makeup. Especially the Aura lip and cheek stain in Petal.
What's your earliest memory?
Jumping on the bed with my brother when we were two and four years old, so so excited 'cause my dad was coming home. I also remember a lot of images and patterns from childhood. My dad is an antiques dealer and I remember huge oriental rugs and crawling on them and their patterns and shapes.
What's the greatest/most important lesson your parents taught you?
To be kind to others and compassionate. Never to think I'm better than anyone, maybe more fortunate or less fortunate but never better.
Tell me about your pet(s).
Franny and Seymour! I love my dogs. They are a little over two years old. And I think mostly Cavalier King Charles Spaniel but might have something else in them as well that makes their hair not as long as the normal breed. They were abandoned and found outside a foreclosed home outside of LA. I was only going to rescue one of them. But I had to take both once I saw them curled up around each other and terrified. They survived somehow together and I think they should always stay together.
What's your favorite New York Fashion Week memory?
My first show in New York Fashion Week was the the very first Imitation of Christ NYC show, the funeral show. And I have this memory of having to put garbage bags over the models' clothes to take them from the space where we got them dressed and walk them down the street to the funeral parlor where the show took place. André Leon Talley was snapping pictures left and right and calling out with delight! There was very old school "couture" feeling to the whole thing, but with a real modern edge. Also we were really winging it and just hoping we could pull off having a real New York show with no money or sponsors or anything for that first one. And then we really pulled it off and Imitation of Christ got the cover of WWD the very next day! There was a HUGE picture of our model and the show with a whole article called Death Becomes Her! It was amazing to have pulled that off. And all from hand sewing old discarded Salvation Army clothes and vintage for months and months out of my ex-boyfriend's garage. It was a real dream come true. And it makes one believe that if you have a vision and work very, very hard, you can make anything happen. Magic does exist.
What never fails to make you cry?
Old movies. And especially sad movies on an airplane. That's the worst. Something about the altitude really makes the waterworks come on. And then it's so embarrassing, especially when you have someone ask you if you are alright. So mortifying!
When are you happiest?
When I'm with my friends and laughing. And usually that's a lot. I'm lucky this way.